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GENEVA (Reuters) - Canada requested on Monday consultations with Brussels over the European Union's restrictions on seal product imports, effectively launching a World Trade Organization dispute in the matter.
In a letter to EU Ambassador Eckart Guth, Ottawa said it believed the ban on sales of all products from seals, including fur, meat and oil, were inconsistent with international trade rules and should be repealed.
"These measures appear to be inconsistent with the (EU's) obligations," Canadian envoy Bruce Christie wrote, citing potential breaches of several trade regulations. "These violations appear to nullify or impair the benefits accruing to Canada under those agreements."
Brussels enacted the ban, which will apply in the 2010 hunting season, after years of pressure from animal rights campaigners, who say Canada's annual seal hunt is inhumane.
It would affect an estimated 4 million euros ($6 million) in annual businesses.
Canada, which has insisted that the European Union should recognize that the hunt is conducted humanely, has previously warned it would launch a WTO challenge. If it is victorious in the litigation, it could win the right to impose retaliatory sanctions against Brussels.
At the same time, Canadian Trade Minister Stockwell Day has stressed that the sealing controversy should not affect separate talks between Canada and the European Union on setting up a free trade agreement.
Brussels argues that its legislation is not protectionist or discriminatory as it applies to all seals from all places. The ban also exempts products from traditional hunts carried out by the Inuit people in Canada and Greenland.
Before eventually opting for a total ban, the European Union had mulled enacting a partial embargo along with clear labeling of products to show they contain culled seals.
Reporting by Laura MacInnis